Is R.A. Dickey Juicing His Balls?
Here's a quote from R.A. Dickey about his knuckleball: "The metaphor I would give is that if a traditional knuckleball is a butterfly, mine is more like a butterfly on steroids. It's more like a mosquito or a hummingbird than a butterfly, because of its velocity. It comes in and breaks late at the plate. It darts more and it's in and out of the strike zone. Phil Niekro once told me I had an 'angry' knuckleball."
A knuckleball on steroids...hmmm. Think about it. Has any player in recent baseball memory had such a spectacular season after the age of 35 as R.A. Dickey? Only one that I can think of: Barry Bonds.
Now, consider this. If R.A. Dickey was a fastball pitcher -- or even a cut-fastball pitcher -- and was suddenly, after years of struggling, having a 12-1 season and leading the league in strikeouts at age 37, wouldn't the logical conclusion be that he was on some kind of performance enhancing drug? That really is what everyone would be thinking, right? But no PEDs known to man can help a pitcher who throws a pitch that is at least 10 mph slower than the average major league fastball. Unless, unless...there is some new kind of PED you can take to slow your pitches down. Or, suppose...suppose someone had actually found a way to inject the PEDs into the baseball itself!
That way the pitcher could never get caught? Who bothers to test baseballs for drug use?
After all, as Rob Neyer recently put it on SBNation, "R.A. Dickey is probably throwing a pitch that no professional batter had ever seen before he started throwing it..People wonder how he's doing this, and can he keep doing it. Over the last month, he's doing it by throwing knuckleballs faster than anyone's ever thrown them. No, scratch that. Dickey had thrown those knuckleballs before this recent run. What's changed is that he's now throwing more of those fast knuckleballs."
Neyer called in a couple of witnesses on this subject, including ESPN.com. Mark Simon, who claims that in Dickey's second one-hitter "He threw 35 knuckleballs at 80 mph or faster, the third straight start in which he's thrown at least 30 knuckleballs at that speed."
John Candiotti calls Dickey's pitch "A power knuckleball. It doesn't dance al over the place. But it's got one hard movement."
Jim Bouton, who revived his own major league career by learning to throw the knuckler, pinned down the real difference between Dickey's and all previous K-balls: "If you're throwing 80 mph, it only needs to break two inches."
Think about the words that are being associated with this pitch - "a faster knuckleball," "power knuckleball" - you associate those adjectives with PEDs, right? And the terms Dickey himself used about his pitch - angry knuckleball. Could that be a byproduct of 'Roid rage? When someone in baseball does something that has never been done before, it's always a little suspicious. When I look at R.A. Dickey, he doesn't seem like someone who's on performance enchaining drugs, but what if he's found a way to juice his baseballs - if he's got some kind of needle on his belt buckle or something, it would explain an awful lot that up to now has been inexplicable.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.